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6/30/2009
09:44 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Benioff Offers Cloud Riposte: It's Not Just Fashion

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, finally got a little revenge. He wasn't in the least spiteful. Rather, he was only guilty of repeating something his former boss, Larry Ellison, said about software-as-a-service and cloud computing. An audience of cloud cognoscenti at Structure 09 loved the performance.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, finally got a little revenge. He wasn't in the least spiteful. Rather, he was only guilty of repeating something his former boss, Larry Ellison, said about software-as-a-service and cloud computing. An audience of cloud cognoscenti at Structure 09 loved the performance.Salesforce.com, make no mistake about it, is a cloud computing company. It got its start in software-as-a-service and it's moved on, adding a cloud computing platform with which its customers can construct their own applications, mash them up with Facebook apps and make use of Salesforce.com's established conventions and services.

As such, no one has any question about whether cloud computing is real to Benioff. He understands the underlying trends and intends to be a leader in the field. He's already confident in that leadership. And a rant last October by Oracle CEO Ellison did not put him out of sorts.

I'll depart from the Structure 09 event, for a moment, and recount part of Ellison comments last fall to Wall Street analysts. He said:

"The computer industry is the only industry that's more fashion driven than women's fashion. I read in W that orange is the new pink. Cloud is the new SaaS. It's the most nonsensical -- I read these articles -- maybe I'm an idiot, and I have no idea what anybody is talking about. It's really just complete gibberish. It's insane. Marc Benioff says SaaS is cloud computing. What is it? Some say it's using a computer that's out there. These people who are writing this crap are out there. They're insane. All software is going to be delivered as a service. When is this idiocy going to stop? What the hell is cloud computing?"

He actually said more but maybe that's enough to give you the general picture.

So how did Benioff respond?

At the Mission Bay Conference Center, a small venue in the new complex being built by the University of California at San Francisco, Benioff was in his element. He parodied Ellison's more recent comments about how Oracle wasn't only an on-premises software company; it was also an on-demand company, another way of saying software as a service.

"Larry said Oracle was on-premises software, it was on-demand software. On-premises was on-demand and on-demand was on-premises. He had a Zen-like moment," Benioff recounted, doing his best to make it sound perfectly reasonable. Maybe it was the way he moved his hands. The hall cracked up.

At the end of his most recent comments, an analyst asked Ellison, did his frequent references to on-demand applications mean he was now into cloud computing. His terse, if not tense, answer: "Little bit."

Some people may want it both ways, to engage in putdowns of a new concept and to show up when it starts looking profitable. Benioff doesn't need to have it both ways. He's clearly staked his company on the prospects for the cloud. If it's all false hope and hype, then he won't be around very long as a target. And if he's right, he'll be much too busy chuckling all the way to the bank to worry about what anybody else thinks.

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